That is the historical context on why peers can only be suspended and not expelled. The Lords does have that power to suspend, in accordance with its Standing Orders. Much preferable to the clause on removal for non-attendance would be entirely to delegate that to the Standing Orders of the House of Lords, whereby a peer who was absent for a certain period would have to make a submission to return, would have to explain the reason for the absence, and would be suspended for the rest of the Parliament if those explanations were not satisfactory to the Lords. That would allow for the flexibility that would be needed in the case of a prisoner of war, somebody who was kidnapped, or somebody who was imprisoned in a foreign country. One can envisage that, say, in the case of a peer who had been involved with the Greenpeace demonstration in Russia,

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found guilty of piracy and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the House of Lords might want to waive proceedings on the absence ground even if it had already done so on the criminality ground.

Dan Byles: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I have been pondering whether, if a noble Lord were convicted and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment overseas and the Lords decided that that was an exceptional circumstance and not to remove them, the absence clause would accidentally catch them. That might need to be discussed further in Committee.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is conceivable that the peer in prison would be able to apply for leave of absence, but it is also possible that such facilities would not be made available. It would depend on the country in which he was imprisoned. The absence and attendance point is really a matter for the House of Lords under its Standing Orders. The Lords can deal with it perfectly adequately, and there are disadvantages to legislation.

The main disadvantage to legislation on the internal workings of either House is that it brings in the courts, contrary to the Bill of Rights, which is absolutely clear that no court is allowed to second-guess any decision or activity of the proceedings of either House. What is not clear is what counts as a proceeding. That has been discussed in the courts, leading to the Act of Parliament in the middle of the 19th century that allowed parliamentary publications to be covered by the exemption because there was a doubt as to whether privilege extended to what was in Hansard and therefore whether we might be free to say things in this Chamber but nobody was then free to report what we had said. That was clarified by an Act of Parliament to make it clear that even if Hansard is not a proceeding in this House, it is still covered by privilege. The courts are entitled to investigate areas that may not be proceedings or to determine whether something is a proceeding.

The courts intervening in the legislature involves a fundamental constitutional principle. We have always tried to avoid it, because it delegates ultimate control of the political nation to an unelected judiciary away from the democratic arms of the state that are here in Parliament assembled. I accept that the House of Lords is not democratically elected, but it comes with the certificate, in effect, of the House of Commons and is controlled through the Parliament Acts, whereas the judges are not. It also used to be the case that if either Chamber were interfered with by the courts, the ultimate arbiter of the proceedings in either House would be the House of Lords, which was the highest court.

Sir Edward Leigh: Those who were arrested and charged with offences during the expenses scandal tried to use this argument and the judges struck it down. Were they right to do so?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend makes a helpful point. That is the nub of the matter: the courts can determine what is a proceeding in Parliament, and although proceedings in Parliament are exempt it is arguable that a certificate issued by the Lord Speaker is not a proceeding in Parliament and that it is, therefore, challengeable in spite of the wording of the Bill, which was questioned earlier, that the certificate

“shall not be questioned in a court of law.”

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That has been tried before. I remember the then Home Secretary, now Lord Howard, introducing a Bill that said that a certain something could not be reviewed by the courts, but the courts did so and said that it was unconstitutional. We now have great difficulties in passing laws that deny the European Court of Human Rights and our own domestic courts access to determining things. Even if legislation says something, an appeal to a European court may overrule it. That is why it is important to try to keep as much as possible within the proceedings of the House, because those clearly and definitively cannot be challenged.

As I have said, the absence issue is ancient. Lots of people, when appointed or elected to Parliament, end up not wanting to come, and that has been true for centuries. They would rather stay in their constituencies. As has already been asked, where is everybody today? This House has procedures and mechanisms that we could use—they are ancient and, because of the whipping system, have tended to be allowed to lie waste in recent centuries—if we wanted to enforce attendance, which, in previous times, prior to the whipping system, we were much stricter about.

The House of Lords, of course, has a much weaker whipping system as well as Cross Benchers, who, inevitably, are particularly likely not to turn up on every occasion, because they are not payroll politicians. They are not there to provide a majority for either side or to try to disrupt business as Opposition peers; they are there to contribute what they know. Cross Benchers, modest Lords and Ladies that they are, realise that they do not know everything about everything, unlike Members of this House, who, I am glad to say, do know everything about everything, at least most of the time. Therefore, maintaining flexibility and trying to solve a long-standing historical problem that does not have much of a solution would be best left to their lordships.

Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend accept that another issue is that often Cross Benchers may attend but not actually vote and that, because the definition of voting is attendance, they might be caught out by the provision if they choose not to take sides in a particular debate?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right. Given the looser whipping system, Cross Benchers do not necessarily know when the votes will take place. I have heard from some Cross Benchers that they feel that the votes are often deliberately scheduled for the point at which most of them will have gone home, because the party Whips prefer to keep the votes mainly among themselves, rather than have too many pesky Cross Benchers interfering, but that is anecdotal and may not represent the situation fairly. Others may want to dispute it. I agree that the position of Cross Benchers is particular and that voting certainly does not mean attendance. It is a different requirement. Indeed, activity in the Lords can mean different things: it can take place in general discussion, in Committee or on the Floor. I think that that is a matter for the Lords to determine for themselves internally, not for legislation, because legislation is ultimately justiciable, and then the courts get involved.

On the retirement or resignation issue, I raised one of my concerns in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire, namely the ping-ponging of people from this House to the House of Lords and

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back again. I can foresee a circumstance in which a body of entirely professional politicians—people who have never done any work outside the political arena—stand for Parliament in a marginal seat and win one election but lose the next, upon which the party bosses put them in the House of Lords and then the week before the next election they stand down in order to stand for election in their former constituency.

That would be disadvantageous for a number of reasons. First, it would increase the patronage of the party leaders because they would be able to provide a steady stream of income for loyalists. Members of this House who are in marginal seats would be under great pressure always to vote along party lines, because they would see that they were at risk of losing their seat, but that there was a nice billet on the red Benches if they behaved themselves.

Sir Edward Leigh: Don’t Members think that already?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am not entirely sure that they do. Many Members of Parliament think that it is much better to be in this place and that the baubles of the other place—the strawberry leaves that one might get on one’s coronet if one wandered into the other place—are not sufficient compensation for moving on from this Chamber. I sympathise with that view. Strawberry leaves are wonderful, but better to be here without them than to be on the red Benches with them.

If it were possible to lose an election, be selected immediately for the constituency that one had just vacated, fight the campaign for five years as a peer of the realm, with all the advantages of expenses, envelopes and stamps, resign the week before nominations and then get back in again, that would be deeply unsatisfactory. It would be an improper way of using the constitution.

If people are to retire from the House of Lords, they should retire from politics. They ought not to be allowed back into the House of Commons. If they were allowed to come back, there should be an extended period of quarantine before they could do so. We should bring back the rabies rules: if somebody has been in the House of Lords, they should be kept safely out of the House of Commons for several years before we risk being bitten by them on their return.

It is important to consider what peers have committed themselves to. They know, when they are raised to the peerage, that it is an honour for life, but that that honour comes with certain disadvantages. The major two disadvantages are that they cannot vote in general elections and they cannot stand for Parliament. People do not have to accept a peerage. The Queen does not go around commandeering people and saying, “You’re going to the Lords, whether you like it or no!” They have agree to it, they have to go and see Garter, they have to discuss their title, and they have to pay for their letters patent to be drawn up so that they may be called “most trusty and well-beloved” subjects of Her Majesty and all those sorts of glorious things that we all like to be called. When they accept that honour, they ought to recognise that they have committed to give that service for the rest of their life. If ill health, old age or infirmity means that they are not able to attend, they still cannot take back the benefits that they sacrificed to take on the honour.

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Retirement is a dubious principle at best, because people know what they are accepting. I also worry that it is ageist. I know that I do not often speak about equalities in this House—that is done by others more eloquently than I can do it. However, I believe that age discrimination is something about which this society should be increasingly concerned. That is partly because we have an ageing society, mixed with a peculiar cult of youth. I have never really subscribed to the cult of youth personally, as hon. Members will well understand. However, there has been a tendency in recent years to have younger political leaders and for older people to retire from the House of Commons at relatively young ages.

The last political area in this nation where age is really represented is the House of Lords. The bishops retire at 70 in the Anglican Church and at 75 if they are Catholics. Judges retire at 70. We are not quite being run by schoolchildren, but the youth of today are taking over. Where are the octogenarians and nonagenarians? They are in the House of Lords. That is a good thing because they represent many people in this nation. I know that it amuses hon. Members when I talk about nonagenarians, but we have a large number of them in society and many of them make a significant contribution to society and are actively involved in their communities and families. I am not sure that many nonagenarians are still working, but certainly many octogenarians are, and surely they should be represented. If there is one place where we can keep them, it is the House of Lords because there is no retirement age.

Sir Edward Leigh: My hon. Friend makes a good point about nonagenarians. The editor of the New Milton Advertiser is, I think, 92.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I send my greetings and felicitations to that splendid gentleman and I hope that he continues for another eight years, so that he may reach his century. It proves my point: across society people are working to older ages, but legislation in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s has tended to impose tighter retirement ages, except in the House of Lords. I would not like the Bill to be used as a back-door way of introducing a retirement age. I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire is sensible of that point, and that the Bill provides for retirement or resignation.

I dislike resignation, because if people sign up to a duty, they should not just walk away from it. That is lightweight and improper, and I find it hard to believe that any peer of the realm who has taken on that grave responsibility and high honour should then think that it is right to swan off and leave the House of Lords. They have taken their honour from their sovereign.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I am interested to hear that it is not right just to swan off, but given that the writ suggests that people should be present in Parliament to give advice to the sovereign, does my hon. Friend agree that those people should turn up every now and again?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am all in favour of people turning up, but I made the point that there are valid reasons for not turning up as well as spurious ones. Of course there

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will be idle peers. It is even conceivable—although not in this current Parliament—that there have been idle Members of the House of Commons. You rightly look deeply shocked at that thought, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it must have happened on occasions. That does not mean that we should go around expelling Members of either House without knowing the full reasons for their actions, and it should be done under the auspices of the House. This House, through its Committees, has the ability to expel Members if it feels that is the suitable course of action. I cannot recall any example of a Member of this House being expelled for idleness. Some have been expelled for criminality, for treason or for libel, but I cannot think of one who has ever been expelled for idleness in the hundreds of years of the existence of the House. Penalties and fines have been introduced for non-attendance, but not expulsion, and it would be excessive to legislate for the House of Lords to expel for non-attendance when we are not willing to take it on ourselves.

Peers should of course obey their writ of summons and the Lords could introduce Standing Orders to cover that, but resignation would be improper. Having taken on a lifetime promise, people should not abrogate it willy-nilly. Retirement would be sad, because the Lords is the last representation in society of the elderly, and they are an increasingly important part of our society and deserve to be represented in the political nation. One of the great things about the Lords is that those of us who are little younger can wander over there and see some of the infirmities of age that are becoming such common issues across the nation. It helps bring those to the centre of the political debate and informs legislation on disability. The older people in the House of Lords have a deeper understanding of such issues than perhaps we do. That is valuable and I would strongly oppose any move to compulsory retirement. I would be cautious about clause 1 because it would open the way to that, and indeed that is what some of the promoters of earlier Bills probably wanted to see. Some people want a compulsory retirement age for peers.

Clause 3 is eminently sensible. It is a lacuna in our system that someone can serve a prison sentence and still be a Member of the House of Lords. They cannot invoke their privilege to attend the House of Lords when they are serving their prison sentences, but the day they are out they can come in.

One little point worth making is that I have checked two of, I believe, three peers in this situation, Lord Archer and Lord Black, neither of whom have participated in the House of Lords at any point since their convictions. There is, therefore, already a self-denying ordinance, which is attractive because our constitution works as much by convention as it does by statute law. We should not undermine the importance of that.

I have no objection to and indeed would be in favour of a more formalised rule. Having said that, the nub of the problem with a peer going to prison is as much to do with the title as with the ability to be in Parliament. I suggest that most people are not aware of the reasons why a knighthood can be removed and a peerage cannot be removed when somebody goes to prison. Equally, I would not like to make it easy to remove a peerage. It needs to be a difficult process because of a peer’s position as a legislator and the desire not to allow malign Governments, which do occur from time to

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time, to abuse a power that has been introduced for a very good reason. I would therefore like to see a different approach based on the Titles Deprivation Act 1917.

The 1917 Act—it is fascinating that we were three years into the war before we decided to do anything about this—set out the circumstances under which somebody could be reported to a Committee of the Privy Council for their peerage and title to be removed, which were that they had to be residing in an enemy country or fighting for the enemy in the current war. That had the advantage of essentially being a judicial process. I would argue that the deprivation of titles ought to be more a judicial than a directly internal matter. It is taking away not just something from a proceeding in Parliament; it is taking away an honour that it is used outside Parliament, is relevant outside Parliament and, in the case of an hereditary peerage, cascades down through the generations. This would allow, and I think the 1917 Act sets out a very good formula for doing it, the two members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council required to be on the Committee to consider whether somebody’s offence was serious enough that they should be deprived of their title, and therefore the rights and honours that go with it.

Dan Byles: I am listening with fascination to my hon. Friend, who is making some very interesting points. On his last point, is he not in danger of slightly contradicting his earlier point about allowing courts to interfere in this place? I understand the distinction he has made in saying that the removal of a peerage is about much more than just sitting in the legislature, but it does include sitting in the House of Lords. Under his proposed method, the courts would make a decision that would lead directly to a peer being removed from the House of Lords.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would say it was analogous to an election court, where, if election fraud or misbehaviour during a general election was shown, a court would determine whether the seat had been won in a valid manner, because it is a second degree from the court’s action. The court’s action, or the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’s action, would be to remove the title, and it would follow from that that there would a removal from the House of Lords. I feel it would also allow a proper flexibility to consider the circumstances and would not, as was brought up by another hon. Member, mean that a judge, in passing sentence, would know that a 365-day sentence disbarred and a 364-day sentence did not, and that this must add to the weight of sentence. What if the situation were that a judge, in handing down a sentence, said, “If you were Joe Bloggs, I would give you a year in prison, but because you are Lord Bloggs you will receive an additional punishment on top of a year in prison. Therefore, I am going to remit part of the sentence.” What then? How would the Act apply to that? It would have been a year, but it is discounted. There are issues relating to suspended sentences.

We ought to be careful about unintended consequences. I am particularly concerned about the ability of foreign courts’ judgments to be recognised and to disbar people from peerages. I assume this is done in relation to Lord Black of Crossharbour and that his conviction in the

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United States is viewed as having tainted him in such a way that his peerage should be removed. I have great doubts about the judicial process used against Lord Black of Crossharbour, whom it is not my intention to defend particularly. Somebody he worked with was threatened with judicial, criminal action that would, if he had been found guilty, have led to an exceptionally long sentence, but which, if he turned evidence against Lord Black, would give him three weeks in a country club; and he took the latter option, as we might all have done.

That is how American justice and plea bargaining works. Even if they think they are innocent, people are under such pressure to accept the low sentence they would get with a plea bargain and the consequences of protesting their innocence are so great, that they find there is an injustice against them automatically. Worse than that, the prosecutors use them effectively to bribe witnesses into saying that the other chap, who is not co-operating, did it. By protesting their innocence, the other chap—Lord Black, in this case—risks a very long sentence that we should not take any notice of in this country. Indeed, I think it is restrained of him not to use his vote in the House of Lords. I would not think it improper of him, because he has not been found guilty of any offence in this country.

Hon. Members might think that view is very little Englander, but I happen to believe that the standards of justice in the United Kingdom are higher than those in other countries. That does not mean to say that all other countries are unjust, but other countries’ systems have injustices within them, and this issue of plea bargaining in the United States is one that is particularly egregious. But it is not just the United States, which is a close ally and has a common-law system, a system that we understand; the system on the continent is not one that we understand or are used to as Britons. It has the Napoleonic code. As Geoffrey Boycott so memorably said when he was in front of a French court, it is all in French—of all the audacities! They have different sentencing processes as well, so a crime that in this country might be viewed as a relatively modest offence could be seen as a very serious one in a foreign country or could relate to things that in this country are entirely legal. For example, in some countries, homosexuality is still illegal and is persecuted strongly. Are we to say that a peer caught out in those circumstances should be disbarred from the House?

I accept that there is the exceptionalism, but that is the wrong way around. If somebody has been through a British court and had judgment against them, that is a perfectly rational basis for determining their membership of a British Parliament, but if some foreign court has found against them, it does not seem to me to raise the same issues. Some foreign courts are willing to try people in absentia; others—the Italian courts come to mind—are extraordinarily political in how they approach prosecutions and sentencing. In that respect, I have some sympathy with Mr Berlusconi, whom I think was persecuted by extremely left-wing judges who wanted to use a legal mechanism to get him out of office, which they succeeded in doing. I will not stand up for his moral conduct, however; that is a different matter entirely, and a direction in which we do not want to go.

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Russia has arrested these Greenpeace protesters for piracy, and piracy is an extremely serious crime. I understand that it carries a 15-year prison sentence. It is highly unlikely that the UK would have treated those people in that way. Now, I cannot imagine that peers would go hurling themselves about in boats in that fashion; it is far too energetic and not a sufficiently noble activity, and the ermine might get in the way—not to mention that their coronets would be falling into the sea as they climbed up the oil rig—but it is not inconceivable that a peer might be caught out in such circumstances.

On a further point, we are seeing in the affair over European opt-ins and opt-outs the EU’s increasing efforts to create a body of criminal law across the EU. I must confess that I would oppose the Bill even more strongly if I thought that the EU would be able to determine the membership of either Chamber. Part of the expression of our nation’s liberty is our free ability to decide who rules us, and that free ability comes through these two Houses of Parliament, in which no foreign court should ever be given an automatic say. It would be different if someone were found guilty of an offence here but, as I have said, the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 provides a clearer, more suitable model that does not risk bringing the proceedings of the House under the eyes of the courts, because it would be the title of the peerage itself—the honour—that was in question, not the proceedings.

That leads me to my last point, which relates to clause 5. Subsection (2) states:

“A certificate may be issued on the Lord Speaker’s own initiative.”

We should be very careful about this, on two grounds. As I understand it—I am sure hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong—there are two instances in which the Speaker of the House of Commons may issue certificates. The first is under the terms of the Parliament Act 1911, to enable a Bill to be passed without the assent of the House of Lords. The second is under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, following the passing of a vote of no confidence in the Government to enable an election to be held.

Proposals to involve Speakers in tendentious political matters should always be a matter of concern to us. Speakers in the Commons have a long-established history of being independent arbiters of the businesses of this House. Actually, it is not that long. They have been independent for only about 150 years; before that, they were much more party political. The Lord Speaker is an innovation, a post created to replace that of the Lord Chancellor, and it is a very different role from that of the Speaker here. It does not involve keeping order or calling speakers. The Lord Speaker is a more ceremonial post, created to ensure that the House may legitimately sit. The Lord Speaker does not order the business. The House of Lords is self-regulating, rather than regulated by a Speaker.

When the post was introduced, the Lords were extremely concerned that the Lord Speaker might model him or herself—it has been “herself” so far—entirely on the Speaker of the House of Commons and might interfere in a way that is necessary only in a lower and less orderly Chamber. Of course, such interference is unnecessary when you are in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, when we are all beautifully behaved, particularly on Fridays when everyone arrives with their shoes nicely polished. The better-behaved House of Lords resented

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the idea that it would need a Speaker of that kind, and I would be concerned about raising the profile of the Lord Speaker, contrary to what was promised when the lord speakership was introduced. I would also be concerned about the risk of bringing the Lord Speaker into the political arena and giving them a role that might not be purely administrative.

It is interesting to note that in the House of Lords Act 1999, the responsibility for issuing certificates was given to the Clerk of the Parliaments. That indicated that it was a purely administrative activity, but the power given to the Lord Speaker in this Bill would appear to involve judgment. Judgment begets politicisation, and it also begets challenge in the courts. I repeat what I said earlier about the risk of legislating in a way that would bring the right of the House to govern its own affairs into conflict with the courts. We do not want to get into that position, because the ability of either House to operate independently is essential to the free flowing of our democracy. Once the House of Lords’ procedures had been intervened on by the courts, it would not be long before the same happened to our procedures. A precedent would have been set. The more we use the ancient right of either House to regulate itself, and the less we legislate and involve the courts, the better it will be.

The Bill is genuinely good in parts, and I am very sympathetic to the idea of excluding criminals from Parliament. I am not unsympathetic to imposing some kind of sanction on people who do not turn up. I am, however, against the bits on retirement and resignation. One of the bits that I am in favour of ought to be achieved through the procedures of the House; the other bit ought to be done through a different form of legislation.

I shall conclude where I began by being strongly critical of the Government’s treatment of this first-class constitutional Bill.

Sir Edward Leigh: Does my hon. Friend think this should actually be a Government Bill? Were he to push for a Division on the basis of his notion that it should be a Government Bill and be taken on the Floor of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) would have to ensure there were 35 Members voting. That underlines the fragility of private Members’ Bills.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think constitutional Bills ought to be given the proper time and that requires them to be Government Bills, because Government controls the timetable in the House. It seems to me that the only reason why this is not a Government Bill and has not therefore been thought through more carefully is to save the blushes of the Lord President of the Council, who said he would not support a future House of Lords reform Bill after not getting his way last year. I think we will see from the Division Lobbies when we put the motion to have a Committee of the whole House where the Government’s heart is in this.

I think the Government ought to be clear about their view and intentions. If they support this Bill, it deserves a Committee of the whole House. It deserves to be debated thoroughly and properly clause by clause. It deserves to be considered by the many constitutional experts this House has—who are not here on a quiet

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Friday—so they have full time to table amendments and to ensure it is scrutinised thoroughly and the best Bill is passed.

I will greatly regret it if the Government do not allow that to happen because there are good parts of this Bill on which everybody could agree. Presuming you allow the Division I shall ask for, Mr Deputy Speaker, ere long we will see whether the Government will allow a Committee of the whole House.

12.56 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). His remarks should persuade anybody who has any doubts about the desirability of having this constitutional measure debated on the Floor of the House in a Committee of the whole House of the wisdom of that course of action, because this is a serious constitutional Bill. In the absence of a written constitution, it is this House and the other place that have to look after our constitution, and why should all Members of this House not be able to consider in detail the provisions and implications of this Bill, which could be done if there were a Committee of the whole House?

One of the advantages of the Government supporting any motion in relation to Standing Order No. 63 would be that the Committee of the whole House could meet to consider this not on a Friday, but on some other day of the week, so we could get an even higher attendance than we have been able to achieve today. We could then be sure that, if and when this Bill leaves this place and goes to the other place, it will have been properly thought through and all the constitutional implications will have been explored.

One of my roles in life at the moment is to be the representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the Venice Commission, which looks at written constitutions. Last week in Venice we were looking at the proposed Tunisian constitution, and the time before we were looking at the amendments to the Hungarian constitution. One of the problems with those written constitutions is their rigidity. We are fortunate in having an unwritten constitution, which is inherently flexible. Long may that continue to be so. That is why it is essential that, before making changes to our constitution, which we can do by a bare majority in both Houses, those changes should have been properly thought through in the way my hon. Friend is encouraging us to do.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) on introducing this Bill. It is a pity that he was not able to incorporate in it some of my ideas in the House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill, which is also on today’s Order Paper. Some of my Bill’s provisions dealing with retirement are perfectly apposite to his Bill. If his Bill reaches a Committee of the whole House, some ideas from my Bill may well be taken forward by him in the form of new clauses or amendments. I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made specific reference to his view that we should have a maximum number of peers and that it should be 650, which is exactly what is contained in clause 1 of my Bill.

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My Bill sets out a retirement process for peers on a different basis from that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire, but it does, as I mentioned in an intervention, deal with the issue of incentives for retirement. Clause 5 of my Bill refers to the ability to convert, whereby the title of someone seeking to retire becomes a hereditary one on retirement. That would provide an incentive, not an expensive one, and it would address the issue of a lack of incentive and of compensation, which seems to be very much at the forefront of my hon. Friend’s Bill.

As has come out in the debate, clause 4 of the Bill, which deals with the effect of ceasing to be a Member, is silent on the issue of any costs. Would, for example, severance payments be made? Could we ensure that there was no guarantee of, or no entitlement to, severance payments? I imagine that the issue of whether money should be paid out of central funds to compensate people who cease to be Members would be a matter for the other place. However, that should be specifically excluded from the provisions of this Bill, so that in no circumstances could a Bill which made provision for retirement from the House of Lords be an additional and significant charge on public funds.

As we recall, the Prime Minister has been very hot on the issue of reducing the cost of politics, although he was not able to reduce the numbers in this House because of the duplicitous way in which the minority Government party and the Liberal Democrat leader behaved. Meanwhile, however, the Prime Minister has been increasing significantly the numbers in the other place, and that has added significantly to the cost of politics. So the cost of politics, far from being reduced, is going up substantially. On the way back to this House yesterday, I was looking at the Daily Mail, which was forecasting that yet another tranche of new peers is going to be appointed very soon—perhaps the Minister wishes to intervene on that point. That will increase their number even beyond what we have now.

I do not know whether one reason for the visits to China by the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London was to see the Chinese second Chamber, which is the world’s largest. Our House of Lords is exceeded in size only by the Parliament of the Chinese Republic. Having regard to the relatively modest population in this country compared with that of China, I am not sure that we should be pleased that we have a Chamber of Parliament that is second in size only to that in the Republic of China. The case for reducing the number of people in the House of Lords through having a maximum number is very strong. Having said that, I am not sure that the way that the Bill goes about it is right in its present form.

Clause 1 refers to the issue of retirement or resignation. Essentially, those words have the same meaning. The long title of the Bill makes provision for retirement from the House of Lords; it does not refer to resignation. Obviously, those who were looking at the drafting of the Bill realised that the term “resignation” effectively came within the concept of retirement. The use of the word “resignation” rather than “retirement” is an issue of semantics rather than of substance.

However, I am concerned that clause 1 does not make it clear whether, and if so how, it applies to their lordships spiritual and to hereditary peers. At the moment,

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it seems to apply to all peers, but I am not sure it would be appropriate for the Bill to introduce rules relating to the retirement or resignation of their lordships spiritual or to hereditary peers. However, that is not spelt out in the Bill.

I am concerned also, in clause 2, about the issue of non-attendance. There are many ways of defining non-attendance and the Bill sets out some of them, but as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset made very clear, one may well be a Member of the other place but not choose to attend. For example, at the moment Baroness Ashton finds herself too preoccupied with trying to rule us from Brussels to be able to attend the other place. One might argue that, in that case, it would be a good idea if she was forced to resign, or indeed expelled, from that place, but that is a separate argument and it is not covered by the Bill. However, there is a wide range of reasons why someone might wish not to attend the other House.

Many of the witnesses who attended the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee discussions on these issues made the point that the relative number of people who would wish to retire at the moment is very modest, so because most of those who would wish to retire do not attend anyway, the provisions relating to retirement would have no significant impact on the numbers in the House of Lords. Those who are currently not attending would be faced under clause 2 with the threat that if they carried on not attending, they would be deprived of their membership, so those people might be given a perverse incentive to start attending. The Clerk of the Parliaments has said that the biggest problem with the other place is not the people who do not turn up, but the fact that so many people do turn up, with the pressure on resources.

Clause 2 is misconceived. It deals with a presentational point. Their lordships seem to think that if there is a suggestion that some people are not very regular attenders, that causes reputational damage to their lordships House. But as we have discussed, there may be any number of reasons why those people choose not to attend, and if, in any event, under the provisions of the Bill, they could receive a certificate from the Lord Speaker to the effect that, notwithstanding their lack of attendance, they could still carry on as Members of the other place, that undermines that provision of the Bill.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee took all that evidence, and we produced a report. Some people—even the Minister on the Front Bench today—said that they were wholly in support of everything that is in the Bill. I think that is going a bit far. Sadly, I was not able to be present at the meeting at which the Committee examined the final report and considered possible amendments. If I had been able to contribute at that stage, I certainly would have tabled some amendments.

Having said that, the report accepts that there is a case for dealing with some of the issues covered in the Bill. The strongest case relates to clause 3, on people who have committed offences, because it would bring the Lords in line with what happens in this House to a greater extent. Even on that clause, however, I have some concerns.

As soon as somebody was convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a year or more of imprisonment, he would automatically cease to be a Member of the other place. That would apply even before any appeals

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process had been exhausted. Someone might be convicted in the Crown court and wish to appeal against the sentence, but before the appeal they would lose their position in the other place.

If one wants to go along with the idea of clause 3, it would be much fairer to provide that a person ceased to be Member of the other place after they had been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in excess of one year, but also after all their rights of appeal had been exhausted. That would still not cover someone seeking an appeal in future through the administrative process by which people can have their convictions reviewed, but the provision in clause 3 should apply only after the right of immediate appeal against a sentence has been utilised and proved unsuccessful, or after the person in question has chosen not to use it.

I agree wholeheartedly with what my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said about convictions having to be from courts in the United Kingdom. Criminal legal services operate in contrasting ways in different countries, and if we are to deprive people of the right to be Members of our legislature, we should say that a conviction by a court overseas has no effect. We should not leave it to the Lord Speaker to issue a certificate on that issue.

As we heard in the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, the previous Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, and some others of their lordships, are keen to extend the provisions of the Bill into the area of expulsion of Lords who are guilty of conduct that brings their House into disrepute. The previous Lord Speaker, along with the noble Lord Goodlad and one or two other witnesses, told us that that would be a good idea. However, the points that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset made show that we must be extremely nervous about what the impact would be if their lordships tried to extend the range of conduct—misdemeanours as well as criminal law offences—that they considered sufficient to deprive somebody of being able to be a Member of the Lords. Even in this House, we do not have the power to expel Members who have not been convicted by the criminal courts, and it is not sensible to give such powers to the other place.

Mr Nuttall: Does my hon. Friend think that clause 3(2) is unnecessary, and that the Bill could manage just as easily without any requirement for the Lord Speaker to issue a certificate? The Bill could simply say that if someone was convicted, they would cease to be a Member of the House of Lords, and still retain the provision in clause 3(6).

Mr Chope: Yes, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. This is another issue on which there might be amendments. I am concerned about how the Bill will proceed, assuming that it gets its Second Reading today, because if it does not go to a Committee of the whole House, it is quite likely that there will be so many amendments that people will want to move and debate that the Bill could end up taking up all the time available for discussion on Fridays; that is another good reason why it should go to a Committee of the whole House.

I should not sit down before commenting on what my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said about the potentially ageist nature of the reference to retirement in the legislation. I have the privilege of

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representing the constituency with the largest proportion of residents aged over 65; the proportion is just over 35%. Obviously, that means that a much higher proportion than that are able to vote in elections, because those under 18 are excluded from doing so. I therefore have a particular reason for saying that it is important that the older generation be properly represented in this House and the other place.

Quite a lot of people see it as their objective in life to try to bring in, directly or indirectly, a restriction on the age until which people can participate in our democracy in a representative capacity. We should be hostile to those moves. That is another reason why I have always been against the idea of a retirement scheme for their lordships that is based just on age. The proposal in the House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill, to which I referred earlier, would not require people to retire based on their age; retirement would relate to the date when they first became Members, which can be a completely different kettle of fish.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire said, the Bill is, on any view, a modest measure, but many modest measures have been brought before the House. Some of the Bills in my name further down the Order Paper are very modest measures—two clauses at most—but that does not mean that they will find favour with the Government Front Benchers.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Just to help, if the hon. Gentleman were to finish speaking now, we might be able to get to those modest measures.

Mr Chope: I am not that naive; there are two Bills after this one before we get to any of mine. The Government have already indicated that, although the House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill has received the Queen’s consent, that does not mean that it has their support. I live in hope, but as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), who is in charge of the next Bill to be discussed, nobody’s performance or career in this House should be judged on how many private Members’ Bills they have been able to get on the statute book.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Does my hon. Friend think that a contribution to the House should be judged on the number of Bills an hon. Member stops getting on to the statute book?

Mr Chope: I am not sure about that, in those blunt terms. It is often not clear how a Bill is stopped in its tracks. We know that the House of Lords Reform Bill was stopped in its tracks not by dealing with the issues of substance, but by a procedural device in relation to the programme motion. It may well be that when a vote is called shortly, I hope, on the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, we will see how many Members are here who wish to participate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend. If fewer than 35 Members participate in the Division on the committal to a Committee of the whole House, that does not have the same effect as if fewer than 35 had voted on Second Reading. It will have no effect, ultimately.

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Mr Chope: I stand corrected by my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Procedure Committee. My understanding has always been that if there were not enough Members voting in a Division, we went straight on to the next business.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Shall we test it?

Mr Chope: We can test it in due course.

The Bill, albeit modest, would need a great deal of change before it would be worthy to go on to the statute book. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire on introducing it. This debate sends out a warning shot to those in the other place that if they send to this House Bills relating to their own House which they want us to endorse, we will not do so unless we have had a chance to consider them fully.

1.21 pm

Dan Byles: With the leave of the House, I should like to sum up. I was not aware before I moved Second Reading that I would be rowing into the Bermuda triangle, as I was told earlier. It has been noted that I have in the past rowed across the Atlantic ocean in a wooden rowing boat in 101 days, so I like to think that if any of us can navigate our way through this particular Bermuda triangle, I will have as good a crack at it as anybody.

I thank all the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for their thoughtful contributions. One of the features of Friday sittings is that those who come to take part are often the most knowledgeable about these matters and therefore perhaps make the most helpful contributions. I have listened carefully to many of their contributions, and I thank them for the positive tone. Everybody has been gracious about the purpose behind the Bill. I do not detect that any of those who intervened with legitimate concerns and issues have done so with the intention of undermining or killing the Bill. They are genuinely raising points that they feel will make the Bill better and I thank them for that.

It remains my intention to find the best path forward to achieve the measures in the Bill. I remind the House that these are measures that, in one form or another, the Lords have voted on and called for. No Bill starts out perfect. I very much hope that the Bill will progress to Committee and that I will be able to learn the lessons of much that has been discussed here today, table some sensible amendments in Committee to put at ease the minds of colleagues who have spoken, and enable them to support the Bill as it moves forward.

I want to respond to one or two points that were made. Rather than respond in an intervention, I have made a note of them. I am conscious of the ping-pong concern of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), which is an interesting point. It is probably not an easy point to get around. Unless one were to bar former peers from standing again for the House of Commons, which would remove for life a right that every other non-peer in the nation has, I do not think there is an easy solution. I would be interested to look into whether a time bar solution could be achieved and would be legal.

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The ageist point is interesting too. Between my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, I am between a rock and a hard place. Apparently, to resign is sordid and nasty and one should not even consider resigning from the House of Lords, yet to retire is ageist, so quite what the right word is I do not know. I come back to my perhaps naive plea earlier that we should be grown-ups about what we are seeking to achieve without being too pedantic about the wording.

Mr Chope: May I suggest the word “leave”?

Dan Byles: Absolutely. I believe that Lord Steel, on his fifth attempt, started using the term “cessation of membership.” Perhaps they have had these discussions as well and that might be what we do.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset suggested that no peer was ever removed for idleness—

Jacob Rees-Mogg: No Member of Parliament.

Dan Byles: Sorry. He said that no Member of Parliament was ever removed for idleness, but an idle Member of Parliament must face the electorate, whereas there is no such sanction for an idle peer. My hon. Friend is in danger of being slightly inconsistent. On the one hand he upholds passionately the honour and privilege it is to receive the writ of summons and the need not to give it up lightly, yet on the other hand the idea that a peer can choose to turn up only once a Session seems to be acceptable to him.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think that that particular aim of the Bill would be better achieved through the Standing Orders of the House, rather than through legislation.

Dan Byles: I am very sensitive to that view and understand it. We face an interesting dilemma. I would like the Lords to be able to regulate themselves much more in those ways, yet there are constraints on what they can do in that respect, and they have asked us for those measures previously by passing them in their own House and then sending them to us. Once again, we are between a rock and a hard place on the best way to proceed.

I am also very conscious of the concern my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) expressed about the possibility that we might end up seeing financial inducements and what they might look like. The Bill certainly makes no argument in favour of that.

I take issue with the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made that the non-attendance issue is purely about presentation. He seemed to suggesting, “One can already have a leave of absence, and that does not cost anything, so what does it matter?” Actually, the status of a peer who is on leave of absence is a very grey area. They could be on leave of absence for 10 years and then come back, so can they be replaced? What if we ended up with half of all peers being on leave of absence? We could not replace them with new working peers because we would not know if any of them were ever going to come back. I understand his point, but I

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do not think that it is purely about presentation, because there are also practical implications. We need to know whether someone is a Member of the House of Lords or not and whether they are going to be taking part in business.

Mr Chope: If we had a fixed number in the other House, I could understand the point about replacement, but the Government seem still to be appointing many more peers than the number seeking leave of absence or dying. I think that about 20 die each year.

Dan Byles: I have a great deal of sympathy with that view. Again, so as not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, I did not include something on that in the measure. We might get on to my hon. Friend’s Bill later today, when we can discuss that point.

I will mention the foreign courts issue briefly, because it has been raised a number of times. I have discussed it prior to today with a number of hon. Members. I am very sensitive to the question of whether a conviction in a foreign court should deprive a peer of the realm of their place in the House of Lords. I do not think that it is as clear cut as saying, “Let’s simply make it UK courts.” It would be very difficult if a peer was convicted of an offence in Australia and New Zealand, or somewhere that has a relatively unimpeachable judicial system that compares to our own, and sentenced to two years imprisonment, if that offence would warrant a two-year sentence here. There would be no way to remove them, whereas they would have been removed if they had been convicted and sentenced for the same offence in the UK. Again, I am open to discussing whether the wording in the Bill is exactly right and seeing whether there is a better way of doing that. I am sensitive to people’s concerns about the foreign courts issue and have heard them loud and clear.

I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and colleagues and sincerely hope that they will be able to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish to move, under Standing Order No. 63, that the Bill, having been given a Second Reading—I am clarifying that for my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Emily Thornberry: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Is it really a point of order?

Emily Thornberry: I ask for your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker, on whether this is correctly a point of order. The inconsistency that has been shown this afternoon is extraordinary—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. It is absolutely not a point of order. I thought that it might have been something relevant.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 63)(2),

That the House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—(Jacob Rees-Mogg.)

The House divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 39.

Division No. 105]


1.29 pm


Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bruce, Fiona

Chope, Mr Christopher

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Leigh, Sir Edward

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lucas, Caroline

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr David Nuttall


Jacob Rees-Mogg


Afriyie, Adam

Alexander, Heidi

Baker, Norman

Bingham, Andrew

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brown, Lyn

Byles, Dan

Clark, rh Greg

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Creagh, Mary

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Ellis, Michael

Evans, Graham

Gauke, Mr David

Grant, Mrs Helen

Greening, rh Justine

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Rebecca

Keeley, Barbara

Lancaster, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Malhotra, Seema

McDonald, Andy

Offord, Dr Matthew

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Pritchard, Mark

Rogerson, Dan

Seabeck, Alison

Smith, Julian

Thornberry, Emily

Truss, Elizabeth

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Webb, Steve

Willetts, rh Mr David

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Sam Gyimah


Claire Perry

Question negatived.

Bill accordingly stood committed to a Public Bill Committee.

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Drug Driving (Assessment of Drug Misuse) Bill

Second Reading

1.41 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the support that the Bill has received from all parts of the House. The degree of unity shows that this issue affects us and all our constituents equally. I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss such an important subject. We know that lives have been lost in road traffic accidents caused by drivers who are under the influence of drugs.

The review of drink and drug-driving law undertaken by Sir Peter North published its report in June 2010. It concluded that there was

“a significant drug driving problem”,

with an estimated 200 drug driving-related deaths a year in Great Britain. Drug-driving remains a primary concern for the public. In 2011, a new question was added to the British social attitudes survey to seek opinions on drug-driving. Ninety-six per cent. of respondents thought that those who had taken illegal drugs should not drive. Through the tireless work of people such as Lillian Groves’s family and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), the dangers of drug-driving have risen up the political agenda. I thank my hon. Friend for supporting the Bill.

I welcome the changes that were made in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which received Royal Assent in April. The Act has made it easier for the police to arrest and prosecute drug-drivers. Before the Act was passed, in order to pursue a conviction for drug-driving, the police had to show that the driver had been impaired—a requirement that can be difficult to meet. The Act brought the legislation on drug-driving into line with the drink-driving laws, which have been very successful in lowering the rate of alcohol-related driving offences.

Our understanding of safety and of the responsibility of the driver has changed dramatically since I started driving in 1981.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the dramatic and welcome reduction in the number of deaths caused by crashes involving people who are above the legal alcohol limit. Such deaths have come down from about 1,200 a year 25 years ago to about 200 a year now. In cautioning people about using drugs, will he include the fact that some legal drugs and prescribed drugs are incompatible with driving? That might not necessarily be part of the Bill, but people ought to ensure that they do not drive while impaired, whether it is through legal drugs, illegal drugs, drink or tiredness.

Graham Evans: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I will speak about some of the technicalities later in my speech.

Using seat belts has become second nature and the attitude of the public towards drinking and driving has been revolutionised. “One for the road” is a phrase that rightly has no place in our more safety-conscious society. Drug use is now openly part of our society, but it is

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more difficult to address the attitudes of drug-drivers. In a drink-focused environment, we are aware of the designated driver—usually the least cheerful looking person at the party—and culturally we are conscious of that role, aware of their responsibilities and we do not encourage them to drink. We know that drink-driving is against the law and puts the driver, their passengers and other road users at risk.

In an environment where illegal substances are being used, a similar collective understanding is not necessarily present. I therefore welcome the fact that the 2013 Act reinforces in the popular awareness the dangers of the use of banned substances while driving. The Bill will similarly send out a clear message that drug-driving is unacceptable. However, the prosecution of drug-drivers can overlook the need to address their underlying problems. As a former special constable, I have huge respect for the work that the police do and how difficult their job is. I recognise from my personal experience that dangerous patterns of behaviour by individuals result in repeat offences, and I know that intervention at the right point can sometimes turn someone’s life around.

If we can work with the individual on wider psychological, physical or lifestyle problems, as well as their substance misuse, we can help to prevent further offending. Unless they appear in court, however, there is no mechanism to direct drug-drivers towards the necessary health care and support services that can help them to overcome their drug misuse. That contrasts with the existing approach to require assessments for other types of drug-related offending, such as theft or burglary, that has proven links to class A drug use.

At present, a person arrested on suspicion of burglary or theft who tests positive for heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine can be compulsorily referred for a drugs assessment if the arresting officer believes that would be appropriate. In contrast, someone who is suspected of drug-driving cannot be similarly required to attend an assessment of their potentially harmful drug abuse. The Bill would tackle that gap in legislation. It is about helping to break a cycle of behaviour and doing more to ensure that those found driving under the influence of class A drugs receive the appropriate help. By extending class A drug intervention processes to drug-driving, we may be able to intervene at an early stage and perhaps prevent an individual from committing further crimes and potentially endangering other road users as well as themselves.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): One of the main drugs that impairs driving ability is cannabis, but that would not be caught by my hon. Friend’s Bill. Why is that?

Graham Evans: That is a very good question. The Bill covers drugs that are usually associated with criminality—the class A drugs. Cannabis is not necessarily associated with criminality in the same way.

The Bill gives the police the power to require a person under investigation for drug-driving offences and who has provided a sample that has tested positive for the specified class A drugs to attend an initial and a follow-up drugs assessment. That will apply to the existing drug-driving offences in the Road Traffic Act 1988, as well as the new offence recently introduced in the 2013 Act. The Bill would not interfere with any other police

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processes in investigating the offences or the circumstances of a road collision, or in gathering evidence for a possible prosecution of drug-driving.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech to introduce his Bill. In view of the importance of this matter—and it seems that he has identified a bizarre anomaly—does he think that it would have been preferable for this loophole to have been plugged in the 2013 Act?

Graham Evans: That is a very good question, but I must say, hand on heart, that I do not have the answer. I do not know why the substance of my Bill was not included in the Act, but I hope that my Bill will close the loophole.

After an incident, a suspect may be taken to a police station and a blood or urine sample taken to test for the presence of illegal drugs that may have contributed to what happened. The provisions in the Bill would come into effect when the offender had the sample taken. The offender would be asked to consent to the sample being used for the potential purpose of requiring them to attend an assessment for drug misuse. If the sample tested positive for class A drugs—heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine—the offender could be required to attend up to two assessments with a drug worker. It is already an offence to refuse to give a sample when required to do so. The purpose of the assessment is to assess a person’s dependence on drugs or propensity to misuse drugs and whether they might benefit from treatment or other support services. These can then be provided through existing local partnerships. Assessments can, if deemed appropriate by the qualified health professional carrying out the assessment, lead to treatment and a care plan.

We are not, however, mandating treatment. It will be for the individual, working with their drug worker during the assessment, to determine what course of action might work best for them. That means that decisions about the best course of action following assessment properly will lie with the professional health worker, who will have the best view of the local resources and services available.

Failure to attend the required assessment, or leaving part way through, is an offence under the Drugs Act 2005, and the Bill would extend that to drug-drivers. In making attendance mandatory, the Bill parallels the current legislation that enables the police to use a positive drugs test result to bring into play a number of semi-coercive measures, including attending a drugs assessment. The element of compulsion allows the police to engage far greater numbers than on a solely voluntary basis.

This is a simple and straightforward Bill with only five clauses. If I may, I will briefly set out what each clause will do. Clause 1 would insert proposed new sections 11A to 11C into part 3 of the 2005 Act to enable the police to require a person, who in the course of an investigation into drug-driving offences has given a blood or urine sample that reveals the presence of a specified class A drug, to attend up to two assessments with a drug worker.

New section 11A sets out the conditions that would have to be met for a person to be referred for an initial assessment. A person will have provided a blood or urine sample as part of an investigation of an offence

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under section 3A, 4 or 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, or driving with the concentration of a specified drug above the specified limit. Analysis of the sample must have tested positive for a specified class A drug—heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine. The person must also be aged 18 or over. New subsection 11A(2) would enable a police officer to require that they attend an initial assessment and remain for its duration. New subsection 11A(3) would allow the Home Secretary to change the minimum age.

New section 11B sets out the conditions that would need to be met for the person to be required to attend the follow-up assessment. These are that a police officer has required a person to attend an initial assessment and remain for its duration, and that the person is aged 18 or over. New subsection 11B(2) says that, when requiring a person to attend an initial assessment, the police officer must also require that person to attend a follow-up assessment and remain for its duration. New subsection 11B(3) would allow the Home Secretary to change the minimum age. If, after the initial assessment, the drug worker decides a follow-up assessment is not needed, the person will be informed that they are not required to attend the second session.

New section 11C sets out how the arrangements for attendance at initial and follow-up assessments would be made. The notice of requirement must be made in writing, but it is up to local areas to agree with the person concerned exactly how they will communicate with them. The notice must contain information about the time and place of the initial assessment, the requirement to attend and remain at a follow-up assessment, and a warning that a failure to attend or remain at the initial and follow-up assessments without good cause means that the person is liable to prosecution. New subsection 11C(3) would enable a police officer, or other suitably qualified person, to give a person a further written notice informing them of any change in the time or place of the initial assessment, and repeat the warning that a failure to attend or remain at the assessments without good cause means that the person is liable to prosecution. New subsection 11C(4) would require the person to be given at least 14 days notice of the date, time and place of the assessment. This recognises that the person may live some distance away and in a different police force area from where the traffic offence was committed.

Clause 2 makes a number of consequential amendments to the Drugs Act. The main provisions are in subsection 7, which amends section 16 of the Act, meaning that the requirement to attend either an initial or follow-up assessment is cancelled if a subsequent re-analysis of the sample arranged by a police officer does not reveal the presence of a specified class A drug. Clause 2(8) amends section 17, cancelling the requirement to attend either the initial or follow-up assessment when a person has been charged with an offence under section 3A, 4 or 5A of the 1988 Act, and a court has made a drugs assessment a condition of bail.

Clause 3 makes consequential amendments to section 3 of, and schedule 1 to, the Bail Act 1976, which require a court granting bail to impose as a condition of bail the requirement that the person attend an initial and follow-up assessment with a drug worker, as long as they consent. The court cannot grant bail if someone does not agree

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to participate in an assessment unless the court is satisfied that there is no significant risk that they will commit an offence while on bail. Clauses 4 and 5 are self-explanatory.

I am pleased to say that I have support from across the Government for the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), has provided the following statement:

“I am very pleased to see that the Honourable Member is taking this important Bill through the House. The Government has just completed the consultation on its proposals to the drugs and the limits to be specified in regulations, which we intend to bring before the House next year. We are currently analysing the responses and will publish our analysis in due course. The Government's aim is to take a zero tolerance approach to illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, to send the strongest possible message that you cannot take illegal drugs and drive. We firmly believe this will also act as a strong deterrent to those thinking about taking illegal drugs and thus have a positive impact on road safety as well as potentially contributing to the Government's overall drug strategy. A part of that strategy is to get drug misusers into treatment and support services to enable them to address their drug dependency. Being able to require drug drivers on Class A drugs to attend a drug assessment will be a valuable contribution to tackling drug misuse. Drug driving may be the first offence of someone who could be at the beginning of a lifetime of misery for them, their families and their communities, so tackling it early and at this added opportunity will play an important part in reducing the effects of Class A drugs in our society. I therefore fully support this Bill and recommend that the House does too.”

The benefits of the Bill are clear: it would close a loophole in current legislation and strengthen the hand of the police against drug-driving, while maintaining the important role of locally led and delivered drug services. I recently visited Vale Royal day services in Northwich, a facility in my constituency, which works with Cheshire and Wirral NHS partnership and Turning Point. Speaking to individuals tackling substance abuse and learning about the support network in Cheshire showed very clearly that these services are extremely effective and important for every community. They really can save lives.

In conclusion, the Bill would provide the police with an additional tool to bring in a group of people for assessment and potentially for treatment for their drug addiction who might not otherwise have accessed drug services. It would make the roads safer by helping to reduce the number of people driving under the influence of class A drugs and would build on the success of existing tools and interventions aimed at getting people off drugs in the longer term, while being independent of any criminal prosecution. I hope Members will agree that this is a sensible, practical and proportionate measure entirely in line with existing drugs policy and current practice. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and open it up to debate.

1.57 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) on bringing this measure before the House. It will have the Opposition’s support today, but I wish to raise a couple of issues about the Bill’s practicality and implementation, so that they can be considered in advance of any Committee stage.

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As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill would close a gap in existing law in respect of individuals being investigated for the commission of offences relating to driving while under the influence of drugs. I think I am the only Member here who had the good fortune to serve earlier this year on the Committee of the Crime and Courts Bill, whose drug-driving provisions we also supported. Today’s Bill would enable the police and courts to require drug-drivers who have tested positive for a specific class A drug to be required to attend up to two assessments with drug workers. I take the point from the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) about why this was not part of our discussions on the Crime and Courts Bill, but let us put that to one side for the moment.

The principle behind the Bill is in line with the previous Government’s policy of referring people for drugs treatment in the criminal justice system, which we did through the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, but the agency has now been scrapped and funding is no longer ring-fenced. We will need to test that. We also funded drug prevention and rehabilitation work directly through community safety partnerships. So the principle behind the Bill is sound—namely, that someone who is caught having a drug-driving experience should be referred by the police for treatment.

The Bill raises a number of questions, however. The Department for Transport’s assessment estimates that about 8,800 additional prosecutions a year could take place under the new drug-driving offence in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, but the hon. Member for Weaver Vale has said that we do not yet know which drugs are to be included in the new offence. Similarly, the Department has not yet published the regulations, following the public consultation on this matter. I would therefore be interested to learn how police forces will be expected to interpret the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, given that we do not yet know the details of the legislation that has already been passed.

If the Department eventually publishes the guidance and sets out the boundaries for drug testing, we will need to be told who will fund the drug assessments, who will employ the drug assessment workers, and what assurances the Minister can give us that the necessary resources will be made available to police forces to allow them to offer these services. A police force such as West Midlands, for example, might have a large number of health bodies in its area. How will the treatment programmes be co-ordinated in such an area? What negotiations will take place between the relevant bodies to ensure that that is done in a positive way? The Bill suggests that it will be for local areas to decide whether to carry out and fund assessments. This is therefore an enabling Bill, providing powers at national level, but it will not mean anything unless local police forces and health bodies in England and Wales have the resources, the capability and the willingness to implement them.

The Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), will need to reflect on those matters, and I would like to know his estimate of the costs involved. I have heard a figure of £128 million a year. Is that a genuine figure? If so, how have the Minister and his team arrived at that costing? Who will be expected to pay for this, at a time when we have already seen a 20% reduction in policing budgets? Like it or not, there are also now greater freedoms in the

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health service in England, and the devolved Administration in Wales, to whom the Bill will presumably apply, could make their own judgment on drug treatment in Wales.

Paragraph 25 of the Bill’s explanatory notes states:

“There were 129,584 police officers in England and Wales on 31 March 2013. As this Bill provides for an enabling power, police officers have discretion on whether to use it. Therefore there should be a de minimis impact on police officer time.”

That is a very broad statement, because police officers would have that discretion. Have the Minister, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale or officials in the Department asked police and crime commissioners whether this would be a priority for them? Introducing an enabling power is fine, but the Bill’s own explanatory notes give the lie to any expectation that the service will be delivered in all parts of England and Wales. They state, as I have said, that police officers will have discretion on whether to use the power, and that there will be a de minimis impact on police officer time.

I would particularly welcome an indication from the Minister as to whether he has solved the problems of the Crime and Courts Act. I am still not clear—that might be my fault; I might just have missed something—whether any assessment has been made of the equipment required to ensure that drug testing can be properly undertaken. I am not sure whether an assessment has been made of the level of drug use and the types of drug that might be present in blood. I am not sure whether people taking drugs for medicinal purposes could be caught by the legislation. That subject was debated fully during the passage of the Crime and Courts Act, but the matter was not resolved.

I am not sure what the unit cost is for any equipment required for testing. I am not sure yet whether police officers have roadside testing equipment or whether they are bringing people from the roadside to medical or police facilities to undertake the drug testing. I am not sure what training police officers have undertaken in drug testing and related areas or which police forces have indicated they wish to sign up to drug testing. I am not sure whether the Minister intends to leave this discretionary, as it appears to be in the Bill, or whether at some point he intends to make it mandatory. I am also not sure what assessment he has made of prison sentences for drug-driving offences as well as of the proposals for mandatory testing that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale has brought forward today.

I want to give this Bill a fair wind. I really do want to make sure it has potential for reducing drug driving, for preventing deaths through drug-driving, and for making sure that people who have taken drugs while driving can have treatment for their drug addiction or use. I have a lot of admiration for the hon. Gentleman, so I say this with the greatest respect: this whole package appears still not thought through. Drug testing for drug-driving has not yet been thought through in detail, although there is the legislative capacity for it, but what we have before us today is a Government-supported Bill allowing treatment for people who have been caught drug-driving through the use of testing equipment.

While I give this Bill a fair wind, I think the hon. Gentleman needs to go back one whole stage and say, “Is the technology being used? Is it in place? Will it be used? How is it being used? What are the regulations? What are the drugs? Where will this be undertaken? Which police forces will do it?” Then we can worry, on

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top of that, about what happens in terms of drug treatment orders for people who are caught and require drug treatment, which I fully support. This is full of holes, therefore.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Ind): Assuming the equipment is there—and I cannot believe any area does not have equipment that it is using for drug testing—does the right hon. Gentleman believe this may be an ideal situation for the introduction of a pilot to ensure the testing equipment and the services are rigorous enough to be able to take these provisions forward once they are enacted?

Mr Hanson: I am grateful for that positive suggestion. Drug-testing provisions were agreed in the Crime and Courts Bill Act 2013. Today’s Bill is about treatment when people are caught through drug testing, yet I know—I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm this—that as of now the drugs covered by the offence in that Act are not yet specified, the limits for the drugs in the body are not yet specified, the consultation by the Department for Transport has not yet been published and, dare I say it, the equipment has not yet, in my view, been sufficiently tested to ensure convictions are possible even if the levels and the drugs were set.

We are putting in place a vehicle, but I do not think we have yet put fuel in the tank, and my plea to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale is to think with the Minister and with the Department about how this will work in practice, because at the moment, although it is a good idea, there are still a number of policy areas that need to be developed and determined.

2.8 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to support this private Member’s Bill introduced by my neighbouring Cheshire MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), especially because it sends out such an important message to young people in particular. The fact is that, tragically, innocent people die when individuals drug-drive just as they do when people drink-drive—people such as Ron Birch, whose family graciously allowed the circumstances of his death to be highlighted in a Cheshire road safety partnership campaign.

Ron was killed in his Transit van when a lorry driver who had taken drugs swerved into oncoming traffic and hit him. It was his 58th birthday. That evening his family sat at home with his birthday meal waiting for him to arrive back. He never did. He left a wife, two sons and three grandchildren. We must do all we can to send out a message that drug-driving is equally as wrong and as dangerous as drink-driving, and that we will deal with it equally as stringently.

The importance of this Bill is that not only does it send out that message, but it does so in a very practical way, providing for the police to require those found to be drug-driving to be assessed by a qualified drug worker for drug dependency or drug misuse, so that they can access appropriate specialised treatment for that individual to help them get off and stay off drugs. I hope that the assessments will be strongly directional in that way, because in the long term that will benefit those individuals, their families and the communities affected by drug-related crime, and it will make our roads safer.

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The Bill strikes an appropriate balance between sending out a clear message, underpinned with prosecution for drug offences, and helping offenders into recovery and rehabilitation. As my hon. Friend said, and as the Secretary of State for Transport has said, a zero-tolerance approach should be taken to those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs. The reason for that is clear: more than 51,000 people were convicted of driving under the influence of illegal substances in 2012, and every one of those represents the potential risk of a wrecked life or wrecked lives.

I commend the work of Cheshire Road Safety Group, whose active work, particularly on the part of Cheshire fire and rescue service, involves officers going into schools in Cheshire to advise young people how to drive safely. They advise young people never to drive after taking drink or drugs, and that is so important because road crashes are the biggest single killer of young people aged 17 to 25 in the UK. The Bill, if passed, will play a significant part in preventing many of those tragic deaths and serious injuries involving young people on our roads.

I also commend the work of Cheshire police road safety. I wish to alert the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale to the concern of one of its lead officers, who this week said that better field impairment tests are essential if our approach is to be effective, as are accurate data on offences where the toxic mix of both drug-driving and drink-driving is involved. That will facilitate a better understanding of the number of these incidents, which are often either placed in just one of the two categories. Perhaps that could be explored further in Committee, because if the Bill’s objectives are to be fully achieved, that research and data will be essential.

I commend the work that my hon. Friend has put into the preparation of the Bill, and I hope that it will garner wider support across the House during its passage, to facilitate its successful implementation.

2.12 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I would defer to the Minister if he wished to intervene at this stage, Mr Deputy Speaker—I thought he was going to do so—because my speech was going to be about seeking answers to the questions raised by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), as we do need answers to those questions before we can take this Bill any further. I was a road safety Minister and I have always been very much against the scourge of drug-driving. Indeed, I have introduced—in successive years, I believe—private Members’ Bills seeking to outlaw drug-driving.

Mr Hanson: I hope the questions I posed are valid, but I would not wish them to defer the passing of the Bill this afternoon.

Mr Chope: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but my frustration about this is that when I introduced a private Member’s Bill to deal with drug-driving, I was told on successive occasions that we could not do anything about it because we did not have the right equipment to enable us to identify the drugs that were

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in the people who would be stopped by the police. A rearguard action was fought by the Home Office because, I suspect, it was concerned about the costs of all the prosecutions that would result from changing the law to put on to the statute book what is now contained in section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as introduced by the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

That Act set out a new provision, which had been promoted the previous year by the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and others, who were very concerned about the scourge of deaths on our roads caused by drug-driving. What had caused me to introduce my private Member’s Bills in the first place was a horrific accident on the A31 in which a lorry driver crossed the central reservation and killed a young student. He had gone to sleep, after being high on amphetamines.

I was very disappointed to see from the explanatory notes to the Bill that we have not yet got the new offence in section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 into force. I looked then at the consultation document on the regulations, and as the right hon. Member for Delyn said, that consultation period expired about a month ago, so we have not had a Government response. When we get that response, we will know which drugs will be the subject of the new regime of drug-driving. I understand that they will include cannabis—certainly that was one of the drugs on which the Government consulted. The right hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but that is included as an option in the consultation document.

If cannabis is not included it will be a disaster, because cannabis was one of the main issues that was raised in my earlier private Member’s Bills, and we know—these are figures from Brake, the road safety charity—that in the United Kingdom 18% of people killed in road crashes have traces of illegal drugs in their blood, and the main substance found is cannabis. Yet the Bill before us would make no provision at all in relation to cannabis, because it is confined to class A drugs. As the right hon. Gentleman makes clear, the Bill does not introduce the offence that everyone has been crying out to have introduced for years. I want to put more pressure on the Government to tell us exactly when they expect that provision to be on the statute book. Section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 needs to be on the statute book sooner rather than later.

The consultation on the regulations has finished, but the Government have not come forward with a quick response. When we get that response, draft regulations will be drawn up, and the Government’s own documentation suggests that when they have been drawn up, it will be necessary to get type approval of the testing equipment. At the moment, despite years and years on this—I know, because when I introduced my private Member’s Bill I got evidence from companies in this country that produce that drug assessment equipment and are marketing it in northern Europe and Australasia, where it is being used, and other countries—a game is being played whereby the Home Office is blocking progress, on the basis that it does not have the right equipment, but it is delaying the implementation of the type approval.

I will give way to the Minister if he wishes to intervene; I have no evidence at all as to when exactly the new offence will be on the statute book. Unless and until it

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gets on the statute book and is implemented, rather than just being a law, it will not make any difference. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, we know that some 8,800 people will potentially be prosecuted as a result of that law as soon as it comes into effect. However, there is no timetable for bringing it into effect, because of the prolonged consultation process.

We are being asked today to approve another high-profile Bill that can be used as an example of how serious the Government are about dealing with the issue. However, it would be wrong for the House to give people who are watching this debate the impression that we have sorted out the problem. Unless and until the Government implement section 5A of the 1988 Act, we will not have an effective law against drug-driving, which is killing hundreds of people on our roads each year.

If section 5A is implemented, it will deter a lot of people from getting behind the wheel when they have taken drugs, but the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale would come into action only when the police made arrests at the roadside. Even then, as it deals only with class A drugs, it would not apply to cannabis users. Their numbers and the impact of cannabis on their ability to drive make them arguably the biggest menace on the roads.

Even leaving that aside, a police force would be able to use its discretion about whether to require a driver to present himself for an assessment, which could take place over two days. The explanatory notes state that the estimated cost of each of those assessments runs to about £200.

Graham Evans: £100.

Mr Chope: In that case, my point is even stronger. We would not be able to get much out of a £100 assessment of somebody who had been stopped at the roadside for suspected driving while impaired by drugs. If the police used their discretion to refer the matter to such an assessment, what would happen afterwards? That would be the stage at which something needed to happen. If the assessment said, “This is somebody who has a drug problem, and they need to go and see a therapist and go for more expensive treatment to wean them off”, that would create a fresh lot of costs. The financial memorandum suggests that they are not regarded as costs directly associated with the measures in the Bill.

Mr Hanson: None of these points is a reason to deny the Bill a Second Reading. We can debate them in Committee, despite the comments that I made, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow us the opportunity to do that.

Mr Chope: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. We have not yet heard from the Minister, but if the Bill goes to Committee, he will be able to table amendments. My point is that for a long time, there has been too much gesture politics on the subject. Those of us who are genuinely concerned about road safety would like to see section 5A of the 1988 Act, which is already part of the statute law of the country, brought into effect. That means deciding which drugs will be included in that Act and authorising the equipment that will enable analysis to be carried out.

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Mr Hanson indicated assent.

Mr Chope: The right hon. Gentleman is nodding sagely, but there is something to be said for putting pressure on the Government—more pressure than he has so far—to respond to these points. My understanding is that there has always been a strong conflict between the desires of the Department for Transport, which I had the privilege of serving in as a Minister, and the Home Office, which is resisting taking such measures. If I am wrong about that, and the Minister can give me a target date for full implementation of section 5A, I will happily give way to him—if he is listening.

The fact that he does not wish to intervene to try to ensure reasonable cross-party consensus shows that the Government are again playing games with the House. They talk the talk; they say, “We want to outlaw drug-driving” and they announced, with a fanfare, in the Queen’s Speech before last that they would legislate on the issue. The Prime Minister congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central and met some of his constituents who had experienced tragedy as a result of death by drug-driving. Today, the Minister has the opportunity to tell us exactly when section 5A will come into effect—legislation that was forecast and supported in 2010 in the North report—but he is choosing not to; I do not know why. Perhaps it is because, as a Home Office Minister who has been a Transport Minister, he has, in a sense, a split personality on the issue. His previous responsibility was to try to push such measures through, but now that he is wearing his new hat as a Home Office Minister, the idea is to give people the impression that something is being done on the issue when we know that not very much is being done.

The Bill is a complete side-show compared with the main issue. If the legislation is brought into effect and people are prosecuted under it, it will not address the largest proportion of offenders: those caught with cannabis in their system. The measures in the Bill should have been included in one of the criminal justice Bills that the Home Office brings forward with such regularity.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), whom I have the privilege of sitting behind, opened this Second Reading debate—I congratulate him on choosing this Bill—he was not able to say why the Bill was not brought forward at the same time as other legislation.

Graham Evans: The Minister might be able to answer that.

Mr Chope: The Minister may well be able to answer it, and I am happy to give way to him if he wants to intervene. [Interruption.] I am being heckled by Members on the Bench in front of me who say that the Minister has not yet had the chance to speech. Of course, we know that he did, but he chose not to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn.

This Bill was brought forward by the Government. When my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale spoke to it, he read from a text on top of which was written “restricted”, which shows that it is essentially a Government Bill. The Government have the power to give the Bill more time. I challenge them to provide

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more time for this debate, so that the Minister can give a full response to the very important points made by the right hon. Member for Delyn. There is nothing to stop the Government providing extra time on the Floor of the House for Second Reading of this Bill, and responding on the issue of these very important road safety challenges. In my constituency, people are absolutely exasperated by the Government’s failure to deliver on this important issue of drug-driving.

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 25 October.

Business without Debate

property blight compensation bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 October.

asylum (time limit) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 November.

foreign nationals (access to public services) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 November.

railways bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

18 Oct 2013 : Column 1072

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February.

medical innovation (No.2) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 November.

Sexual Impropriety in Employment Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 November.

House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 November.

EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 8 November.

coroners and justice (amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 October.

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Rural Businesses

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)

2.32 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): When this debate was selected, I received a telephone call asking whether it would be more appropriate for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to respond. It is all too easy to consider rural businesses as either agricultural or tourism-based and the main issue facing them as access to fast broadband. For High Peak, which is one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country, tourism is without doubt a very important industry. As the Federation of Small Businesses survey found recently, 60% of rural businesses reported that the problem of access to good quality broadband is potentially holding them back, so I do not seek to minimise those issues. But concentrating the debate on just two stereotypical industries and one, albeit important, problem misses the point that the rural economy operates in a diverse range of sectors, as I hope to demonstrate throughout my remarks.

The value of England’s rural economy is about one fifth of the national total. It can therefore make a substantial contribution to restoring the economic strength of the whole nation and is as deserving of support from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as any other area, so I am pleased to see the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) here and I thank him.

Let me make a few points about the rural economy in general. It is worth £211 billion a year. Although rural areas are home to just one fifth of the English population, they support nearly a third of England’s businesses—around half a million businesses. Small and micro-businesses, of which I am very supportive, employ about 70% of employees in rural areas. So it is clear that we need to get the conditions right for all these businesses to thrive. The Government have been quick to recognise that there are real challenges facing our rural communities and businesses. I wholeheartedly welcomed the publication of the national rural proofing guidelines in July, which sought to ensure that rural areas get a fair deal from all Government Departments. They state:

“For people living and working in rural areas there can be challenges and barriers for their businesses, the services they receive and their quality of life.”

That is a massive step towards acknowledging that rural areas matter.

All UK businesses have been through tough times, as we know, but the situation is beginning to turn, largely as a result of the Government’s efforts. Rural businesses, however, face additional problems beyond those faced by others seeking to grow their businesses and provide employment in metropolitan centres. For many years now—for too long, some might say—the effort has been in assisting the redevelopment of our inner cities. I admit that those areas had been overlooked and deserved help, but not at the complete exclusion of rural areas, which face similar issues and where it costs more to deliver or access services.

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I am pleased that the Government are taking action to restore the balance, but the gap between rural and urban areas has remained at a similar level since 2006. There have been indications of improvements since the peak of the recession a few years ago, including fewer redundancies and insolvencies in both rural and urban areas, but rural businesses are still facing drops in confidence and investment.

The most recent quarterly rural economic bulletin sets out that the economy appears to be turning a corner, with employment rising and claimant counts falling, which is good news. What makes for slightly more depressing reading, however, is the fact that the figures are not moving in the right direction as quickly in rural areas. In the manufacturing, construction, finance and transport industries, rural communities suffered more redundancies than their urban counterparts.

I regularly speak with small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency. My background is in small business, so it is close to my heart. I always make myself available to visit as many businesses as I can when they ask me. I am a regular speaker at the business breakfasts organised by the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce. In the town of Glossop, a lady called Kathy Ford runs the Glossop Business Network, another organisation that pulls small businesses together to discuss common issues. I visit GBN regularly to speak and, more importantly, to listen to the concerns of small businesses. Having listened to them and to other companies from metropolitan areas, there is no doubt in my mind that there are differences in how businesses operate depending on their location.

I will talk briefly about broadband, although this subject is about more than that. Broadband has become an essential business tool. Without it, or with a slow and unreliable connection, rural micro-businesses are at a competitive disadvantage compared with urban businesses. I welcome the Government’s investment in broadband, but for some in High Peak it cannot come soon enough. As my constituent Mr Steve Otty, who runs his business, Hindlow Technical, from just outside Buxton, has said:

“Here’s hoping that the 21st century arrives for all of us, not just the urbanites”.

I think that he makes a very good point. As I often say, broadband is now the fourth utility for businesses. It is crucial in so many ways to their futures.

Simple geography in rural areas can make hiring staff more challenging. Lack of affordable housing means that many young people cannot remain in the area where they grew up, which starves businesses of young employees to train in their own way. Fewer than half of rural areas have access to a bus service. With limited and scarce public transport, those same young people who cannot drive or afford to run a car—many of us will know how expensive that is for young people nowadays—cannot access available work and employers cannot get the staff they need.

Those planning difficulties and the lack of affordable housing can also affect the ability of businesses to expand. Swizzels Matlow is a world-famous brand—many of us will know it—that makes such sweet childhood memories as refreshers, drumsticks and love hearts. Those of a certain age, like me, will remember having them in their youth. They are loved the world over. Swizzels has been based in New Mills in High Peak

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since 1928 and is very much part of the fabric of the town. It is a fantastic brand and it is looking to build and expand, but suitable additional premises are hard to come by in rural areas. It would be so easy for companies such as Swizzels to move into urban areas, which I am sure would welcome it. It is to be commended for its loyalty both to High Peak and to the people of New Mills, where it has been based for over 80 years and where it wishes to stay.

I do not want to paint a picture that is completely one of doom and gloom. Nestlé, which markets the famous Buxton water, which I am sure many of us have taken, has recently opened a new bottling and warehousing facility at Waterswallows in Buxton. It implements the latest thinking and best practice in environmentally friendly buildings. It is a fantastic thing to behold. Some £35 million has been invested to minimise the building’s environmental impact, the operation’s running costs and the site’s infrastructure and ecology. However, no matter how much investment firms are able to make in their premises, poor roads, difficult transport links, inadequate signposting and higher delivery costs add to the geographical challenge faced by the businesses who provide these dearly needed jobs in our rural communities.

Because of poor roads and increasing demand for travel, every day in my constituency thousands of commuting cars meet heavy lorries, creating severe traffic jams and pollution, particularly around the A57 and A628 trunk roads. They are ruining some stunning local landscapes and shaking parts of the village of Tintwistle to their foundations. There is also a knock-on effect whereby traffic is being sent through small villages such as Charlesworth, creating further congestion and traffic dangers. Any business man knows that delays cost money and impact on the viability of any business. I have great concerns about this road issue, as the Secretary of State for Transport is well aware. These horrendous traffic problems will choke off the local economy if we do not address them. I have first-hand evidence of a company in Glossop that tries to meet its clients at Manchester airport because it does not want them being delayed in trying to get into Glossop for important business meetings. I am further concerned that such infrastructure issues will deter other businesses from moving to High Peak and Glossop.

On the subject of transport and access, we alight on fuel prices, which have been discussed in this Chamber many times. I am pleased and proud that the Chancellor has taken the steps that he has to cancel the various duty rises that led to my constituency having higher fuel bills. One of the main industries in High Peak is quarrying, and the stone has to be transported. Quarries cannot be built next to the point of use; they have to be where the stone is. Consequently, there is a huge road haulage industry in High Peak which carries tonnes of high-quality limestone around the country. As we know, that industry is facing ever higher fuel bills.

Businesses that are not transport-related also suffer from high fuel costs. For example, while I welcome the recommitment to the universal postal service in all areas, businesses and residents in parts of my constituency can face a 14-mile round trip to a post office, and people may have to go 10 miles for a doctor or dentist. All those journeys have to be made using their own

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transport. As I have said before, in rural areas a car is not a luxury but a necessity. Rural businesses have to pay for more travel and pay higher prices for their fuel because it is sold at a premium because of the cost of getting it to remote areas. Petrol is always dearer in High Peak than it is here in London. The Government have recognised this problem and, as we heard on the news today, they are acting in certain areas, but regrettably not in High Peak. I understand the difficulties to do with the European Union and fuel derogation. There is also the problem of other fuel costs. Electricity prices are rising. We heard the news about British Gas this morning. On some occasions in High Peak we cannot even get gas, and further costs are incurred as a result.

I mentioned the quarrying operations in High Peak. I would not describe a big quarrying company as an SME, but I know from experience that such a company involves a huge supply chain in its area. From my own business experience, I know how that supply chain works. It supports a variety of small businesses, micro-businesses and even sole traders, many of which would like to be near that customer, because it may not be their only customer but is certainly their most important. It is vital that rural areas can get these big companies so that the benefit of their presence can be felt across the rural economy. Their buying power goes down through the economy through money spent in local retail areas and the creation of jobs and, as I said, the supply chain. We are lucky in High Peak—our limestone means that the quarries have to be there—but like other areas we need to get other businesses that are not as tied to natural features as the quarries.

I would like to return to the point I made earlier. This is not all about agriculture and tourism. In High Peak we have a bewildering range of businesses. I recently visited Selden Research, the UK’s largest independent manufacturer of professional cleaning, maintenance and hygiene chemicals. Based in Buxton, it has invested £250,000 in solar energy to help power the factory. That investment follows a £1 million investment in bulk raw-ingredient storage tanks to minimise levels of in-bound raw material transportation and packaging costs. We have high-tech and manufacturing businesses such as Pressure Tech in Hadfield, which makes high-pressure regulators. It is the highest-quality manufacturing that can be seen: precision stuff. Peakdale Molecular in Chapel-en-le-Frith is a leading company in pharmaceutical, biotechnical and diagnostic sciences. Next week I will be visiting Glossop Cartons, which has invested thousands of pounds in the world’s first production order for the Highcon Euclid digital cutting and creasing machine, no less. I will not go into how that machine works, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that if the Minister would like to know I could explain it to him afterwards. This investment and this breadth of business is being carried out in High Peak, which is a rural constituency. We should not dismiss it as a farming and tourist area.

I welcome the establishment of the five rural growth network pilots, which focus on small businesses, and understand that they are progressing well. I look forward to them being rolled out and hope High Peak will benefit from them.

Many funds are now available to enable business to access finance, which is a huge problem and not restricted to just rural areas. The Government-sponsored business growth fund of £2.5 billion offers investments of between

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£2 million and £10 million in return for an equity stake. To qualify, companies must be UK-established, with sales of more than £5 million per annum. That will not help many businesses in High Peak.

On a smaller scale, the Growing Places fund for Derbyshire is a fantastic £17.8 million fund that aims to make funding approvals of between £500,000 and £2.5 million. We need smaller pots, because some of the businesses need just a few thousand pounds here and there to help them expand and thrive.

I want to give the Minister plenty of time to respond. I thank him for attending and am glad that such a high-ranking BIS Minister is going to respond to the debate. As a Government, I think we value the rural economy much more than our predecessors and I welcome that.

In summary, the rural economy relies on businesses and it can be diverse, dynamic and proactive. It can play a huge part in the national economic benefit of our nation. We at our peril dismiss it as based purely on agriculture and tourism. It is a force to be reckoned with and one that we can harness. We are doing well in High Peak: we are punching well above our weight, despite all the challenges I have outlined today. Imagine what more we could achieve if we helped to address some of the difficulties I have highlighted. We should and must provide support in every way possible.

2.46 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) on securing this debate on such an important subject and on the leadership he has shown, both in his High Peak constituency and in Westminster, on small-business issues.

Let me begin by assuring my hon. Friend that stimulating economic growth is the top priority for Government. We want to see rural areas contributing to and benefitting from that growth across the country. We have introduced a wide range of national policies to promote business and deliver growth in both urban and rural areas, delivering new infrastructure, raising skills levels and supporting business, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up a significant element of the rural economy. For example, we are investing £150 million to improve mobile coverage for up to 60,000 rural premises across the country that currently cannot receive any signal. We are also taking a number of other actions to support the rural economy, including improving competitiveness and skills, investing in rural tourism and supporting micro-enterprises.

As my hon. Friend said, we have established five pilot rural growth networks aimed at tackling the barriers to economic growth in rural areas, such as a shortage of work premises, slow internet connectivity and fragmented business networks. These pilots expect to create up to 3,000 new jobs and support up to 700 new businesses, offering a local approach to local problems. We will share the lessons that they learn with other local enterprise partnerships and local authorities, to help them promote growth in other rural areas.

The rural development programme has invested more than £400 million to date in projects to help grow the rural economy. Completed projects have created more

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than 8,500 new jobs and safeguarded a further 9,700. The next seven-year rural development programme, beginning next year, is a major opportunity to continue to invest in rural growth and the environment. We are working together with interested groups to design a programme that will make a measurable contribution to improving the environment and economic growth and that will give real value for money.

My hon. Friend referred to a couple of our programmes that provide grants at a higher level, and he rightly identified the issue of getting that financial support to businesses that may require only a much smaller but important amount. In his constituency, the D2N2 local enterprise partnership—the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire LEP—has recently awarded local crane manufacturer Street Crane a £152,000 grant towards the £1.5 million cost of building and equipping a new factory to support export growth. This is good news in terms of creating new jobs and developing skills, helping Street Crane to expand to new markets and providing a boost for British manufacturing.

Some of the challenges that are faced by rural businesses are the same as those that are faced in towns and cities. SMEs need to be able to access effective business support and the finance they need to start and to grow. There must be less red tape and better access to public procurement. Although the location of a business is not always the key factor, I recognise that rural areas may be affected disproportionately by the issues that are faced by all SMEs in accessing business support. It is important to ensure that the support for all businesses is simpler, more joined up and easier to access.

A wide range of advice and information for people who want to start and grow a business is available on and the Great Business website. The £200 million GrowthAccelerator programme is available for up to 26,000 SMEs with high growth potential that want to take things to the next level. It provides them with the necessary expertise and networks to achieve sustainable growth.

We recognise the importance of being able to access finance. We have therefore put in place a package of credit-easing measures to improve the supply of affordable credit to SMEs. The funding for lending scheme, which is by far the largest intervention, allows banks and building societies to borrow at cheaper rates from the Bank of England for periods of up to four years. That will significantly reduce the cost of providing credit. The StartUp loans scheme is providing a £117 million funding boost to enterprise. We have removed the upper age cap and the scheme is now available to people of all ages over 18. My hon. Friend might like to know that there have been 15 loans to his constituency so far, with a total value of £97,000. The enterprise finance guarantee scheme continues to be an important source of finance. Since May 2010, it has facilitated additional lending of £1.3 billion to more than 12,700 businesses. Twenty EFG loans have been offered in the High Peak constituency, to the value of £1.26 million. We know that we can do more, which is why we are capitalising the business bank with £1 billion of new money.

My hon. Friend raised some specific issues that affect rural communities. I recognise that broadband connectivity is essential to the ability of rural businesses to compete and contribute to our economic prosperity. I am aware that there are concerns in the rural community about

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the speed of connections. We are a world leader in the online economy and are in the top three EU member states for broadband coverage, take-up, usage and choice. However, more needs to be done to connect rural businesses so that they can participate fully in the online economy.

The Government, local authorities and the devolved Administrations are investing more than £1 billion to extend the benefits of broadband to rural areas of our country. Our projection is that we will reach our original goal of 90% superfast coverage by early 2016. We recently announced an additional £250 million of investment to extend superfast coverage to 95% of premises by 2017. Together with the industry, we are exploring how to expand coverage further, using more innovative fixed wireless and mobile broadband solutions to reach at least 99% of premises by 2018.

Mobile connectivity is increasingly important in providing rural broadband connectivity and choice. Earlier this year, we saw the successful conclusion of the 4G spectrum auction and nationwide 4G services are now being rolled out. EE, O2 and Vodafone are all committed to rolling out 4G services to 98% of the population by 2014. Through the mobile infrastructure project, the Government are providing £150 million to provide masts covering so-called not spots. The first mast went live last month. We have also streamlined the planning laws, which should speed up the deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure.

Transport is also central to local economic development. We have announced our intention to devolve funding for local major transport schemes in a way that aligns with local enterprise partnerships. There should be a smooth transition to the inclusion of that funding in the local growth fund, which will provide £1.1 billion of funding to support investments in local transport projects.

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The D2N2 local enterprise partnership has a local transport board, which is now looking at the delivery of major schemes across its area. We want to see a greater local influence over the delivery of such projects and, while funding will come to the D2N2 area from 2015, the LTB has been set up now in order to agree a programme of schemes and oversee their development and implementation. The D2N2 area has been notionally awarded £46.8 million.

On the work force, it is vital to develop high calibre vocational skills if we are not to be left behind in the global race, and to address the unacceptable position of skills shortages existing alongside high youth unemployment. Businesses in all areas need access to those skills. Local enterprise partnerships have the lead role in developing local skills strategies that reflect local priorities, and I understand that the D2N2 LEP is developing its skills plan to identify priorities and supporting actions to address them.

Since 2010, as my hon. Friend knows, we have given colleges freedom and flexibility to respond to employer and learner needs. We have supported a massive expansion in apprenticeships, with the number of starts increasing by 86% between 2009-10 and 2011-12. We have also given employers the opportunity to shape skills provision through the £340 million employer ownership pilot.

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government are fully committed to supporting businesses across the country, especially those in rural areas, and making sure that we realise our ambition of making this country the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

Question put and agreed to.

2.57 pm

House adjourned.